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Deeplocal aims for advertising success through 'experiences'

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin in their The Strip District offices Thursday, April 4, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin in their The Strip District offices Thursday, April 4, 2013.

When advertising agencies move to bigger quarters, it's usually to add copywriters and the like. Deeplocal Inc. needed more space for a wood shop and machine shop.

The ad firm moved into the top two floors of a former flour mill in the Strip District in December from the East Liberty quarters it occupied since its founding in 2006. It went from 3,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet — enough room for carpentry, metal working and electrical circuitry.

“We call this an innovation studio,” said CEO and founder Nathan Martin, 36, seated on a company-made picnic table. “What's cool is we attract people who like to make things.”

The company founder is one part social activist Abbie Hoffman and one part Bill Gates. His firm produces unique public “experiences” to get media attention, as well as designs the software and circuitry for those projects that it then builds.

A Greensburg native, Martin is a former punk rocker/electronic games hacker/fine arts major who became a “self-taught” electrical engineer and software developer. He led a Carnegie Mellon University research team to make online maps from 2004 to 2006. Martin founded Deeplocal that year, initially to design software and provide consulting. The company in early 2007 received a $100,000 investment from the Idea Foundry, a nonprofit in Oakland that invests in area tech startups.

The name “Deeplocal” expresses the firm's aim: to affect the deepest and most local interests of people, Martin said. “If you want to have an impact on people, you want to think more locally than globally,” he said.

Deeplocal's big break, and its first advertising project, occurred in 2009, when a longtime ad agency friend of Martin's engaged his company do a project for Nike. It was the official sponsor of the Tour de France and wanted to publicize its Livestrong apparel, named after bicyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong's foundation.

Deeplocal designed and built a machine — the Nike Chalkbot — that traveled the Tour de France route and chalk-sprayed on the road short messages about cancer-touched lives that Deeplocal had solicited over social media. Thousands responded worldwide, and Nike reported Livestrong apparel sales jumped 46 percent in fourth-quarter 2009 over the third quarter.

The campaign was covered in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and generated “tons of online exposure,” said Martin, adding that the extra buzz didn't cost Nike a dime.

The firm has also done ad projects for American Eagle Outfitters, BF Goodrich, PNC Bank and Toyota.

Most of Deeplocal's revenue is generated from clients that make consumer goods, and the rest comes from other ad agencies and charitable organizations.

For example, Deeplocal is working on a mobile app for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's campaign to promote wider use of the city's five public parks. Funded through insurance provider UPMC Health Plan, the project will help visitors navigate the parks and find restrooms, said Holly Stayton, the conservancy's digital marketing manager.

“We wanted a team who would not just get lost in the app design but who had deeper understanding of the park user experience,” Stayton said. “And they were excited to give back to their community.”

For Toyota's “Ideas for Good” campaign in 2011, its ad agency of record solicited people's ideas for redeploying Toyota Prius technology, then engaged Deeplocal to make the prototypes of the five best ideas. Partnering with CMU, Deeplocal produced them in three days, filming the entire process for television commercials and a Discovery channel program.

The campaign netted Deeplocal Advertising Age's Small Agency of the Year Award, Northeast region for 2011.

“We were very impressed by their approach. They've built a team that's really unusual,” said Rupal Parekh, agency editor for Advertising Age, New York.

“It wasn't just about creating the brightest ads for them,” Parekh said. “They wanted to have engineers and artists on their team to really attack projects.”

Deeplocal has doubled its staff size, to 20 people from 10 three years ago. Martin is looking to hire software engineers, for example.

“That's the most difficult thing I face — hiring the right people — because we have such a different work environment,” Martin said. Deeplocal staffers often must cross disciplines, innovate and multitask.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at

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